In 2020, Lewis Hamilton became only the twelfth driver to miss a race in a season in which he won the World Championship. We take a look at the other drivers who have missed races in their title-winning seasons!
Note: The following list does not include drivers who did not take part in the Indianapolis 500 when it was a round of the Drivers’ Championship between 1950 and 1960. Only one driver who won the title in those years entered the race in the year in which they won the title. The Indianapolis 500 has never been run to Formula 1 regulations.
1952: Alberto Ascari
Alberto Ascari was the only World Champion in the 1950s who entered the Indianapolis 500 in the year that they won the title. The season-opening race that year was held in Switzerland on 18th May, but with the Indianapolis 500 only twelve days later, Ascari did not compete in the Swiss event. The Italian’s trip to Indianapolis proved fruitless, as he was one of the first drivers to retire from the race.
1960: Jack Brabham
Jack Brabham had won the 1960 Drivers’ Championship as a result of taking a fifth successive Grand Prix win at the Portuguese Grand Prix. Brabham would miss the next race, the Italian Grand Prix. Ahead of the event, Italian authorities had decided that the Monza race would be run on the combined road course and oval layout. This would benefit Ferrari as, with their front engined car, the Italian team had superior straight line speed. However, this layout of the track was deemed to be unsafe, and so the big British teams – including Brabham’s Cooper team – boycotted the race due to safety concerns.
1961: Phil Hill
Phil Hill secured the Drivers’ Championship in tragic circumstances at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix. Hill and Ferrari team-mate Wolfgang von Trips were the only drivers with a realistic chance of claiming the title heading into the Monza race. Von Trips was killed on the opening lap of the race, in an accident which also killed fifteen spectators. As a result, Ferrari pulled out of the season-closing United States Grand Prix. Read more: F1 Races Which Ferrari Did Not Start.
1965: Jim Clark
Jim Clark won six of the seven opening races in the 1965 season. The one that he didn’t win was the Monaco Grand Prix. Clark didn’t race in Monaco as he – along with regular F1 drivers Dan Gurney and Mike Spence – went to the Indianapolis 500 to compete in the famous brickyard race. Impressively, Clark won the event. He’s the only driver to have won the Indianapolis 500 and the F1 Drivers’ Championship in the same year.
1970: Jochen Rindt
Jochen Rindt is Formula 1’s only posthumous World Champion. Rindt rocketed up the championship order with four successive wins in the summer months of 1970. He retired from his home race at the Austrian Grand Prix, before heading to the Italian Grand Prix. Rindt was killed in a crash during practice for the Monza race. Rindt held a twenty point championship lead prior to his death – a gap which no driver was able to close significantly in the three remaining races. Rindt’s championship was secured at the penultimate round of the season. He is the only driver to have missed four races in his title-winning year.
1973: Jackie Stewart
Jackie Stewart quit Formula 1 after securing his third title in 1973. Having secured the title at the Italian Grand Prix, Stewart finished fifth in the Canadian Grand Prix before heading to the season-ending United States Grand Prix. The Watkins Glen race was set to be Stewart’s 100th Grand Prix, but he and the Tyrrell team pulled out of proceedings following the fatal crash of Stewart’s team-mate Francois Cevert. The decision meant that Lotus would clinch the Constructors’ Championship, while Stewart’s career came to an early end.
1982: Keke Rosberg
The FISA-FOCA war of the early 1980s saw Keke Rosberg sit out a race in his title-winning year. Williams had scored a 1-2 result in the Brazilian Grand Prix, with Nelson Piquet winning and Rosberg second – but the team were disqualified as their cars were found to be underweight. As a result, most of the FOCA-aligned teams boycotted the San Marino Grand Prix. Rosberg sat fifth in the Drivers’ Championship after the Imola race, but rose to the top of the table three races before the end of the season – despite winning only one race all year!
1977: Niki Lauda
Niki Lauda was level with Jody Scheckter on points at the top of the table ahead of the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix, but the Austrian missed the race due to an injury. Lauda had qualified third for the Spanish race, but pulled out after the Sunday morning warm up session. The Austrian hit a bump in his Ferrari, and it was found that he had suffered a snapped rib in the impact. Lauda would go on to wrap up a second title at the United States Grand Prix, and soon after quit Ferrari with immediate effect. He missed the Canadian and Japanese Grands Prix as a result. Along with Rindt, Lauda is one of only two drivers to have missed three races in a year in which they won the title.
1987: Nelson Piquet
After finishing as runner-up in the season opening Grand Prix of his third and final title winning year, Nelson Piquet suffered a huge crash in practice for the second race of the year. On the Friday morning of the 1987 San Marino Grand Prix weekend, Piquet smashed into the wall at the Tamburello corner and was subsequently ruled out of taking any further part in the race weekend.
1994: Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher won his maiden title in 1994, despite competing in only fourteen of the season’s sixteen races. At the British Grand Prix, Schumacher was handed a penalty for overtaking polesitter Damon Hill twice on the formation lap. After failing to serve the stop/go penalty, Schumacher was shown the black flag – which he also ignored. The Benetton team said this was due to communication issues, and they served the original stop/go penalty a few laps after the black flag was shown. However, the matter was investigated and Schumacher was handed a two-race ban. Benetton appealed the decision, but it was upheld at the end of August. Schumacher therefore missed both the Italian and Portuguese Grands Prix. His absence allowed title rival Hill to close to within a single point, but Schumacher would eventually win the title – albeit under more controversial circumstances after a collision with Hill in the title-deciding Australian Grand Prix.
2005: Fernando Alonso
Though Fernando Alonso entered every race in the 2005 season, he – and thirteen other drivers – failed to start the United States Grand Prix that year. Due to a number of tyre failures on the cars running Michelin-tyres at the Indianapolis circuit, all the teams who used those tyres were forced to withdraw from the event. The controversial circumstances led to fourteen drivers pulling into the pit-lane. One of those drivers was Renault’s Alonso, who would go on to take his maiden title in 2005. With Kimi Raikkonen also one of the drivers to not take part, the Spaniard’s championship lead was unaffected by him not taking part in the race.
2020: Lewis Hamilton
As a result of testing positive for coronavirus, Lewis Hamilton missed the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. It was the first race he missed since his career began at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix, bringing an end to a record 265 consecutive race starts. Hamilton had already won the 2020 title, having clinched the honour for the seventh time at the Turkish Grand Prix. He returned for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in which he finished on the podium.
After graduating in 2015 with a First Class honours degree in English Language and Literature, Nicky Haldenby, a lifelong fan of Formula 1, founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in 2016. The blog has become a firm fan-favourite, delving deep into the sport’s history books and lifting the cover on unusual F1 statistics.
Nicky also writes at F1Destinations and Motorsport Guides and can be heard as the resident stats man on the 2 Soft Compounds Podcast. His work has appeared on WTF1, BadgerGP, motorsport.com, Sky Sports F1 and BBC Radio 5 Live. Nicky is also the host of the F1 Rewind Podcast.